The Jingmai Manjing Mountains are located in southern Yunnan, a few hours north of Xishuangbanna. The people of the area belong to the Bulang tribe and practice mostly Hinayana Buddhism. The homes are wooden and of stilt architecture and sloping roof style. Tea is a huge part of the culture and economy of the region. Puer, green and limited white teas are produced here.
The scenic Jingmai area has gained much popularity over the last few years, as well as some controversy due to its development. The provincial government has made a considerable investment into the region, putting in new roads and building visitor’s tea culture centers to attract tourism, which could be compared to America’s Napa Valley wine tourism region. Jingmai remains very beautiful, with cobblestone roads winding through high mountain villages from which one can look down at the clouds and mist hovering in the valleys. There are many small tea farms, including some individual households, as well as a few professional, organic, more commercial processors.
While Jingmai has undergone development, it also contains a lush undeveloped tea forest, wherein many plants are several hundred years old. At one point, the government wished to remove the tea forest in favor of younger plants that produce a higher yield.
We work with a tea grower named Mr. Tsai who we believe has been an instrumental figure in stopping the destruction of the old growth forest. He moved from Taiwan, where he had been crafting tea for many years, and leased part of the old growth forest. His move from Taiwan into the area was not without controversy and skepticism among the locals, although we have come to have a positive perspective on his work and its influence on this forested area and the organic teas there, which have steadily risen in popularity. Locals continue to have access to the trees, which they can pluck and sell either to Mr. Tsai or to the tea crafter of their choice.
Mr. Tsai himself is very involved in the harvesting and crafting process, working directly with the tea, with help from a few assistants. He has brought with him some tea crafting methods that are unique in the area. Back in Hsinchu, Taiwan, for example, he had been a cultivator of Dong Fen Mei Ren (Oriental Beauty), which is made by a process that allows grasshoppers to bite the leaf and begin the oxidation process before the leaf is even plucked. He now makes Dong Fen Mei Ren in Jingmai, which is rare for this region and has a very lovely, honey-sweet and fruity flavor profile. In our 14+ relationship with Mr. Tsai, he has crafted some teas specially for the Tao of Tea.